This is a post I've been thinking about writing for a long while, but hesitated about for a really long while.
For the sake of chronology, I will start at the beginning: the day G enlisted for National Service. I remember we had a silent lunch at the Manhattan Fish Market outlet at some mall in Pasir Ris. If the men in Singapore can be classified into a simple binary-- those who are enthusiastic about NS because it represents machoness, bravado and all things manly and those who would rather eat wet socks, G sat/sits firmly in the latter category. When I waved goodbye, I was anxious for him and his well-being but also for how we would both cope. The thing is, in school we'd see each other almost every day. And the reality of the rigour of BMT meant that even if I did get 5 minutes to talk to him at night, he'd probably be too tired to think. This mostly proved to be true. He was tired and cranky so much of the time. During his first book-out, he was falling asleep in front of his food at the restaurant.
When university started for me, things were even more tiring. The truth is that in my first semester, I was so overwhelmed with figuring out how to write good essays, making friends and deciding on a what I wanted to major in, that I didn't really think of him very much during the day. But when he called me at night, it was apparent that we might as well have been living on different worlds. The mind-numbing boredom of routine in the army had him on edge most of the time and he often admitted to being envious of the intellectual stimulation I was receiving at school. On the other hand, it was difficult for me to empathise with his complaints about his superiors in the army and the work they had been tasked. The truth is, as much as he hated to admit it, in a tragic twist of fate, the army had become his life. As a result, for the most part I found the terminology and acronyms he used incomprehensible. But I think what irritated me more was the fact that so much of the little time we had to talk was spent airing our grievances about school and the army for me and him respectively. The flipside of having all your time scheduled for meant that I had to wait for him to call, all the time. And we couldn't talk for hours on the phone as we used to. It dawned on me that I had become a cliche. I was sitting around waiting for the phone to ring because I wanted to talk to a boy. I often excused myself in the middle of outings and dinners to take calls from him because I knew that if I didn't, I wouldn't get to talk to him until the next night, or if he was going outfield, a few more nights.
As I mentioned earlier, he was often tired during bookouts. But that was only half the problem, because I was often just as tired. The reality of the workload university meant that a lot of the time, the weekend is a sacred time spent scrambling to do everything for my classes that I would be too busy or exhausted to do during the coming week. At the same time, it was also my only chance to meet G. And he also had other friends he wanted to meet and other things he wanted to do. We both spent a lot of time planning and re-planning our schedules so we could fit in time to see each other for a few hours each weekend. The planning in itself was another anxiety-inducing acitivity and thr truth is that it was often hard to put my looming deadlines out of my mind when we met up. At this point, I couldn't help but feel that it would just be so much easier if he was in NUS with me. And I have to admit that until today, I feel a tinge of jealousy when I see campus couples around school. I envy the luxury of time they have, the freedom to enjoy classes together, to have lunch together on a weekday afternoon. The liberty to kiss your partner on a day other than Saturday or Sunday. In this respect, I empathise with those who feel that being in a relationship with someone who is serving NS is too much stress to handle. I do think the fact that we were at different phases of life added a lot of stress to both our routines.
Things got a little better after Nights Out began. For the (blissfully) uninitiated, this is basically when the NSF gets to book out for a few hours in the evening during the week, usually a Wednesday, before booking in at the end of the night. During this time he can be a "civilian" for a little on a weekday before returning to bunk inspections and water parades. The fact that G's camp was literally in the middle of no where meant that it took a long time to travel for him to meet me, which cut into our time together. But we were glad for whatever time we could get. That's why on almost every Wednesday, he would take the train to meet me in Jurong to have dinner with me. Sometimes, because of the unreliable bus arrival times train track faults, he would spend more time travelling to meet me than actually with me. For this I am always grateful. I mean, it would have been so much more convenient for him to hang out with his friends somewhere near camp instead. For the most part, I enjoyed the sliver of time I had with him, and also the fact that afterwards he had no choice but to admit that Jurong is not the barren desert he has often made it out to be.
Moments of happiness
If I was being critical,for the most part, the nearly two years he spent in the army were stressful ones. For us both, there was anxiety about whether the other person would want to hold on to the relationship or whether they would one day come to the conclusion that it took too much effort. "What if she meets someone else?" was something I knew that he thought about sometimes. But in the midst of this blur of events, there were some moments of hope and happiness. I was always proud to attend all his graduation parades and (sometimes) quite intrigued by the army equipment he showed me then. Nights Out were also a great memory for me. It was a welcome mid-week pick-me-up. As time went on, G made a few good friends and perhaps even some he might keep for life. It was good seeing him enjoying himself and I appreciated all the jokes they shared that he would tell me about.
Some months have passed now since he has completed NS and I think it's safe to say that we are both more than relieved. If you asked me if I would do it again, the answer is probably yes (but with a lot of anxiety). The experience of being the girlfriend of an NSF did teach me the importance of being independent, of having my own individual goals and aspirations separate from him. And in many ways, I think the space between us allowed us both to develop as individuals more and that is always something to be grateful for.:)